Archive for June, 2008

Hope everyone in Brainton Avenue is ok!

June 30, 2008

I read an article about the above earlier today.

I have already asked the extent to which the Council’s Emergency Planning Section would have been involved and informed none at all.

If you live in Brainton Avenue, I hope you have not been inconvenienced too much!

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118 leave London Borough of Hounslow

June 28, 2008

Last Tuesday, in the absence of the Leader, I put on record the thanks of all Councillors to those 118 Officers that were leaving the Council’s employment under the Voluntary Redundancy arrangements.  Last Friday, I got the chance to pass on my best wishes to some of those who were leaving and worked under my portfolio.

As committed as I am to the Performance Improvement Plan, and as much as this is necessary to achieve the ambitions of the administration, it is of course sad to see good, decent and friendly people leave.  More will leave later this year.

I really wish all those who have left the London Borough of Hounslow’s employment every success!

When did Labour stop being a Party for Working Class people?

June 28, 2008

An interesting article in the Telegraph today.  It is in response to the discrimination plan promoted by New Labour.

When I first read the article about this plan, I noticed the references made to female and “ethnic minority” (am I the only person who does not use that term?) job candidates.

My ethical position is that no discrimination, other than on ability to do a job, should be justified.  I expect with the mentality of New Labour, most in the movement would have little ethical problem were there to be scenarios whereby a middle class non-white lady gets a job over a white working class male.  I could not justify supporting either based on their race or class alone (I could not imagine a scenario where they would be a factor at all).

But have New Labour not yet realised that this goes down very badly with those people that were once the bedrock of the Labour Movement.  Do they care?  I suspect that some, but not enough of influence, do.

Personally, and I think have said so on my blog previously, the 1997 to 2001 period should go down as a damaging period for those of us who believe in good race relations in Britain.  References to “race card” were made at that time on a daily basis and it was a period of incredible intolerance and if you did not agree with the Labour way forward, you could expect to be on the end of an accusation or two or be informed that you were not “inclusive”.  The outcome of those years for too many people has been fear, disillusionment and disengagement from the mainstream.  I have always taken the view that the more politicians, and others, try to partition Britain into racial groups, there is the danger that some “groups” will feel left out.  That has arguably been the case with many white working class people.  I understand in some parts of the country white working class boys are the lowest achievers in their area (I do not remember Labour MPs sharing the concerns of Chris Woodhead when he raised them a number of years ago – if I am wrong, please let me know).

The Conservatives should go in much harder in attacking Labour failures on both race relations and in the outcomes for much of their traditional core vote.

I am pleased that I am part of an administration in Hounslow that loathes racism & discrimination and wishes to unite people as opposed to focus on difference.  I believe that this is the best way to persuade people to buy-in to the mainstream.

Everybody Matters!

Councillor Peter Carey – Honourary Freeman of the Borough

June 25, 2008

This is worth a posting in its own right.  One of the two items on the second agenda referred to in the previous post was to confer the above title to Peter Carey.  A very proud moment for the Conservative Group.  We now have two Freemen within our Group as Barbara Reid was bestowed with this last year.

I did not say anything about him during the tributes as the time was very late and everyone was very tired.

I would have made the point that the vast majority of Councillors become Councillors for one or both of the following reasons:

  1. They wish to serve residents;
  2. They wish to advance the cause of their political party, community group, independent group etc.

I feel that my commitment to the Council (as distinct from the above) grown stronger since being in administration.  However, and whilst Peter Carey is hugely committed to residents in his ward and to the Conservatives in the Borough, I always felt with Peter that unusual deliberate sense of responsibility and interest in the Council as a Corporate Body even when we were in opposition.  He was always asking about how the Council do better.

Of course, I am not saying all opposition Councillors do not care about the Council but I am confident that most Council colleagues will understand the point I am trying to make.

Yesterday’s Borough Council

June 25, 2008

My particular interest in this agenda was in relation to agenda item 17.  It took quite a while to get there and I do not think that the entire meeting finished until 11:15pm when considering the second agenda.

Any prospect of regret or withdrawal of the original allegation about Institutional Racism did not materialise.  I recommend the webcast for anyone interested in this matter.  Clearly a majority of the Labour Group do not understand just how absurd the allegations are!  Apart from anything else, by not disassociating themselves from what was said by their Leader, they must associate themselves with those who are on the receiving end of his allegation.  At the same time, a minority of the Labour Group are embarrassed with this episode and they will understand the damage that this will cause Labour in the Borough.

Councillor Sharma and his colleagues failed to provide any evidence to substantiate any of their allegations, including the one that some Councillors are putting pressure on Officers to go after people.

All of the Labour Councillors present abstained on the motion.  It is now time for some exposure because residents, including Labour supporters, are just not prepared to put up Councillors making an issue out of race in this way.

Sports Jam

June 22, 2008

Earlier today, my daughter and I attended the Sports Jam, which was organised by Brentford FC Community Sports Trust in partnership with Access Sport, The London Borough of Ealing and London Borough of Hounslow.  It was held at Gunnersbury Park.  The event was brilliant and succeeded in bringing together a variety of sports.  I had the great pleasure of briefly speaking with both John Barnes (formerly of England and Liverpool) and Rachel Yankey (Arsenal and England Ladies).  Both of them were so clearly passionate about sport and went out of their way to be simply really nice and take the time to talk to people, especially the young.  What brilliant role models!

John Barnes with Saffron and Mark Bowen

Rachel Yankey with Saffron and Mark Bowen

A number of Councillors from both Boroughs were present.  I recall speaking with Councillors Paul Fisher, Shirley Fisher, Matt Harmer, Ruth Cadbury, John Todd, Peter Hills & Linda Nakamura from Hounslow.  I also met Councillors Ian Gibb (Deputy Leader at Ealing) & Ian Green (now Mayor Green in Ealing).  Until recently, I would meet Ian Green at the West London Alliance Housing Lead Member meetings.  Great company, always making very informed contributions and one of the most unassuming people I have met in politics.

More important than my account of how much I like many other Councillors is to stress how much of a fan I am of encouraging young people (and others) to participate in sport.  The benefits are obvious and I only wish I gave my body more time because it does its best to give me 24/7.  I cannot wait for next year and hope that there are other events before then.

This week’s Chronicle

June 21, 2008

The letters page is well worth a read.  Not yet updated online but well worth a read.  Clearly, if this page is anything to go by, a large number of people (including Labour Party supporters) are very angry with what Councillor Sharma said.

Will Labour Councillors back him on Tuesday at the Borough Council Meeting?  We will find out at the end of agenda item 17.

Impressive Council Tax collection

June 20, 2008

Here!

My first press release within my new portfolio

June 20, 2008

Here it is.

Moves within the Executive

June 20, 2008

The Leader of the Council has reshuffled some of the portfolios on the Executive.  Until a couple of weeks ago, my email signature outlined my portfolio as follows:

“Councillor Mark Bowen
Feltham North Councillor and Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council
Lead Member responsibility for Complaints Management, Customer Services, ICT, Housing Strategy, Housing Allocation & Private Sector Housing”

My signature now reads:

“Councillor Mark Bowen
Feltham North Councillor and Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council
Lead Member responsibility for Corporate Services including Complaints Management, Customer Services, ICT, Emergency Planning, Legal Services, Democratic Services & Human Resources”

This is a major change for me.  Obviously, I will miss not having the Housing Responsibilities as Housing casework has formed a large proportion of my ward duties since I became a Councillor in 2002.  This, in part, probably explains why I am so interested in that area.  However, Housing remains in good hands, with an excellent Officer team at the Council and of course all housing matters will now come under my good friend and colleague, Phil Andrews.  He is passionate about Housing and will more than build on his impressive record thus far – he showed real and decisive leadership and vision during the review of Hounslow Homes.  I will continue to be a member of the Tenants and Leaseholder Consultative Committee and the Affordable Housing Panel so I will still play a part in future improvements.

I have had a think about what has been achieved in Housing during the past couple of years, along with what remains to be done.  I would list some of the achievements as follows:

  • Amended the Council’s allocation policy giving existing overcrowded tenants a better chance of family housing (3 bedroom plus) than was previously the case.
  • Major Investments in Council Owned Housing that sit within the General Fund and not the Housing Revenue Account.  I recall Robert Kinghorn, who is sadly no longer with us, having a frustrating time campaigning on this when we were in opposition.
  • We have brought other empty Council-owned dwellings back into use as high quality housing for local families.  Eleven of these are in Isleworth.
  • Good use of housing grants.  I spent one Friday shadowing members of the Private Sector Housing team and I saw for myself the huge difference that these investments made in the lives of some of our residents.  This is quite often a win-win situation because it enables more people to remain in their home.
  • Increase in the profile of Enforcement and Prosecution.  As is the case, with the planning enforcement area, prosecutions are a last resort.  But we have shown that we do mean business when we say we want high standards in housing.  Last year, we made clear what our enforcement policy is.  I have announced a number of prosecutions in the Chamber.
  • Generally, we have given the private sector a higher profile than ever before.  I see the private sector as part of the solution and various reports have demonstrated that.  We launched a Private Sector Strategy.
  • The London Borough of Hounslow is a Council others will be watching in the future in respect of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).  A report has been approved on applying for additional licensing in five ward, including Feltham North, and we await a decision from the Government.  The issue is much higher up on the political agenda than it was in the past.
  • We had the first Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) in London, which went down very well with residents in Sunningdale Avenue, Hanworth as it removed an eyesore and brought a much needed family dwelling back into use.
  • We have approved a £1 million investment to extend existing Council Housing in order to assist families who are overcrowded but are settled in a particular area.  Implementation will begin later this year and it is big news for twenty families in the Borough and it will make a real difference for them.
    We have made some very good progress in reducing the amount of people living within our Temporary Accommodation portfolio.  The target to reduce this by 50% by 2010 is very challenging but we are working hard towards it.
  • We held a Low-cost Home Ownership event last year which was attended by around 700 households.  It was a moving occasion for me as I met so many decent and aspiration people who want to succeed.  I really wish these people all the best and hope that their dreams become reality.
  • We are in a much stronger postion at a sub-regional (West London) level than we were previously.  We have been at the table making a difference.  We got a much better deal for Hounslow in the allocation of new build housing that is funded in West London by the Housing Corporation.  We do not import as many households from other Borough as we once did.

Section 3 of the recent Annual Report of the Affordable Housing Panel refers to some of the above and makes it clear that there is still much to be done.  I have not included information about every piece of work but wanted to pen down some highlights.

It has not been without difficult decisions e.g. rent increases for those working families living with Temporary Accommodation but big progress has been made in this area.

Certainly my work was not complete in seeing through the work on HMOs or in persuading enough working families within Temporary Accommodation to go into Low Cost Home Ownership but the foundations are laid and the whole area is in very good hands.

This change in portfolio is the right thing to do.  We have gained a lot in having two Lead Members for Housing but now is the time for one person to run with it.

I am now responsible for the new Corporate Services Directorate.  One of the key deliverables of this area is to build, and take to the next level, the work that has been done during the Performance Improvement Programme.  Not in a Generation should there be a need for a programme of this size at the Council again.  We must continue to embed strong business-like processes across the Council that will truly deliver service improvement and value for money.

I continue with Information Technology (IT), Complaints and Customer Services.  IT is crucial to any organisation and we need to get the best of out of technology in the future.  There has been a massive turnaround in Complaints Management and I am confident that we will build on that in the next year.  There is no reason why we cannot end up with the best and most effective Complaints Management record in London in the future.

Other areas are new to me and will be a real challenge, particularly Human Resources, Legal Services and Emergency Planning.  I have a meeting with the latter first thing this morning.

I am really proud to be part of this Executive and about what has been achieved during the past couple of years.